WHEN a sensory garden at Sunday’s Well Boys National School was vandalised more than a year ago, staff, pupils and parents were left devastated. But now the school community are preparing to officially launch their redeveloped garden in the New Year.
To acknowledge the resilience of the pupils and the huge effort their parents and the community put in in order to rebuild their treasured garden, Santa Claus came to visit the children and their parents this week.
Principal, David Cashman said: “Santa came to visit the children. He wanted to thank them for their input and support in rebuilding the garden. Santa also wanted to thank the parents for their unwavering support.”
Back in 2010, as part of a PhD project, a student from UCC, along with the previous principal at Sunday’s Well Boys National School, came up with the idea to build a multi-sensory garden on a piece of disused land that lies at the back of the school.
The pupils at the school were involved in the design of the garden, which was used regularly as an outdoor classroom and every breaktime by the pupils of Junior and Senior Infants.
The garden was the first of its kind in an Irish school. The focal point was a treehouse, built around a 300-year-old tree stump. The children accessed a platform and slide in the treehouse by climbing up the hollowed tree stump.
In October 2017, the sensory garden was targeted by vandals who set fire to the bespoke treehouse. Not only did the arson attack destroy the treehouse, it destroyed the hollowed-out tree-stump and a rope bridge and damaged a water pump and various plants in the sensory garden.
Mr Cashman, the current principal of the school, recalled the day he found out that the garden had been vandalised.
“I came to school, as normal, on the Monday morning after the incident. There is a pre-school called Farmyard Kindergarten on Strawberry Hill who also use the garden. I got a call from someone at the pre-school, saying, ‘There is a fire in the garden’.
“I went down, thinking it would be a small fire. When I reached the garden, I saw that the whole treehouse and tree stump had been burnt to the ground. There was nothing left, apart from embers and smoke.”
The garden cannot be seen from the road because it is surrounded by large trees at the back of the school. An examination of the school’s CCTV footage showed two people entering the garden in the early hours of a Sunday in October, 2017, and setting the treehouse alight.
David was stunned when he saw the garden after the fire.
“My initial reaction when I saw the debris was shock. Everything was gone. It was as if the treehouse had never been there.”
The parents and wider community were also shocked.
David said: “When the school community found out that the garden was destroyed, everyone was upset and angry. The garden was a community project. The whole garden was built on the back of donations and support from the community.
“Both the children and the parent body of the school were so proud of the garden. We were the first school in the country to have a garden like this.”
The strength of the parents and the wider community became obvious after the garden was vandalised.
“One thing that became evident after the destruction of the garden was how amazing the parent body of our school is,” said David.
“Parents came and offered to help clear the site, offered financial donations, offered to host fundraisers. The support was heart-warming and astounding.” Fundraising began soon after the arson attack that destroyed the much-loved sensory garden.
Money was raised via a fundraising bingo night held at St Vincent’s Hurling and Football club, the auction of a signed Cork City FC football and a raffle at the school’s concert.
Parents, members of the wider community and local businesses supported the fundraising events by donating money and spot-prizes for the raffle.
From funds raised, the rebuilding of the treehouse and redesign of the sensory garden was able to commence in February this year.
A tree stump was delivered from the UK. Silva Build Designs Ltd hollowed out the stump, which acts as an entrance at the base of the new treehouse.
David said: “They rebuilt what had once been in the original garden, only bigger and better. They built a bigger treehouse and a triple slide was installed so a few children can go down the slide at one time.
“They built an obstacle course in the area where some of the trees were cut down after the fire.”
The children were not able to access the sensory garden for most of the school year. Many of the children were devastated when they heard their garden had been vandalised. Sensory gardens, like the one at Sunday’s Well Boys National School, allow schools to create an outdoor space which promote outdoor learning and stimulate the primary senses — touch, sight, smell, sound and taste.
David explained why learning outside is important. “Outdoor play is so important for young children. The garden offers the children opportunities to climb and play and chase. It helps develop the children’s sensory, social and emotional skills. It creates unique learning experiences for children. For example, we have nature classes in the garden. We’ve planted wild garlic, lavender and other plants that blossom at varying times of the year. We have a water pump and sand pits. The children can explore their senses and learn through play.”
The boys at the school were thrilled when they returned to school in September this year and saw that their new sensory garden was ready for use.
Mark, aged 11, is a fifth-class pupil at the school. He said: “The garden is very important to us. On Fridays, we have Golden Time, when we are given an hour each Friday to go outside and play. We go down to the garden and have so much fun there.”
Alex, 10, a fourth-class pupil said: “The garden is good for smaller children because they can learn to use their senses to navigate the world around them. It’s important for children to go outside so we can appreciate all the wildlife there. There are plants in our garden and big trees and lots of birds.”
The children were united in their sadness last year when they found out that the garden had been vandalised.
Jake, nine, a third-class pupil said: “I felt bad for the people who made the garden because they spent their time and effort building it for us.”
Mark said: “I felt sad that the garden was damaged. We never want the garden to be damaged again.”
Sadness has been replaced by happiness, now that the treehouse and garden have been restored, thanks to the efforts of the Parents’ Association of Sunday’s Well Boys National School, the greater parent body and the wider community.
Mark said: “Where the old treehouse used to be, there are lots of logs and you can walk across them, like a tightrope. It’s cool. You have more of an area for running as well, for when you are playing ‘catch’.”
Jake said: “I think the new treehouse and garden are even better than the old ones. I like the new slide. It’s really long and it’s faster than the old slide.”
The new garden will be officially opened in the New Year.